MotorMachineMercenar writes "Dear game developers and publishers,
This is an open letter from a gamer to call for reason, to convince you to continue making enjoyable games. More importantly, this is to convince that you don't need to sustain and expand on the onerous policies and actions we've seen in the last couple of years which hurt you and your customers more than they benefit you.
I have never worked in the gaming industry. Nevertheless, I'm a bean counter in a Fortune 50 IT company, so I can appreciate some of the financial challenges posed, and I understand why you think some of the activities you take will help the top and/or the bottom line. But many of those don't help with that, and even if it did, they will have a tangible and intangible negative impact on your finances and success in the gaming market.
My gaming "credentials" are at the bottom of the mail for those who might be interested.
Below is my list of grievances for your consideration, in no particular order.
- USED GAMES. They ARE NOT a loss to you. The price of a used game is already factored into the buying decision of a new game. In other words, when I buy a game at x EUR, I expect to be able to sell it for x-y EUR in a month, x-z in two months, etc. Note I will never sell a game if it's great with good replayability. If you make used games unsellable (digital distribution) or less valuable (online passes), I WILL NOT pay full price for the game. The people who buy a used game didn't and wouldn't buy the game at full price, so your pricing is incorrect. It's YOUR failure, and the market is fixing it for you. Instead of trying to actively kill used game sales, you should concentrate the effort, man hours and monetary investment in making games which gamers will WANT to buy on day 0, and play until at least Kyle Reese is sent back in time. Also note that many gamers subsidize buying of new games by selling games they don't play anymore, so limiting used game sales will cut into new games sales as well.
- DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION. It's a fine way to distribute games as you can cut the middleman from the transaction, win-win for most gamers. But don't be an ass about it. I need to be secure in knowing that the game I bought will be playable in the future, and that I can back it up myself. Downloading from your server isn't backup, as I don't trust you to have that game on your servers ten years from now. Also do realize game collecting will be impossible, and such games will disappear from our cultural landscape.
- BACK CATALOG and HOMEBREW. Make sure your customers can always buy your old games and play them on current PCs and/or consoles. Otherwise make sure you don't kill homebrew. Homebrew is an answer to YOUR failure to cater to your customers' needs, don't blame them. Note that gamers playing homebrew are likely some of your best customers of current games. The guys developing homebrew are also your future employees and tech savvy people, so encouraging them is part of being a good corporate citizen.
- LOCALIZATION. Not everyone around the world wants to play the game in their language. Include the original text and audio, and don't make game portals default to whatever language my IP happens to be from — I'm looking at you, Origin. People travel and live all around the world, and just because someone is located in Timbuktu doesn't necessarily mean they speak or even understand Koyra Chiini (yes, I had to look that up). I appreciate there are some legal obligations, but don't let your lawyers keep your hostage. It's your customer who are giving you the money, and lawyers taking it away.
- REGIONAL OR COUNTRY LOCK-IN. Don't. You have to realize that many of your customers are mobile across countries. Within EU it's against the law.
- WORKERS RIGHTS. I don't know how bad it really is, but the publicity on long working hours and outrageous crunch stretches is making you look like dicks — which is a lot since you're competing against some pretty big dicks in the corporate world. Treat your employees well, and they will pay you back with good, inspired games. It will pay dividends in the medium- and long term for everyone involved.
- ONLINE PASSES. Online passes lower the value of a new game to buyers. Why? If I sell a used game on eBay and the buyer has to also buy an online pass, therefore I have to sell it to her cheaper. And make sure you implement online passes so that my upgrade to a new console or PC hardware works without having to do any activations. And don't limit the # of activations, that's just being an greedy ass. And make sure I can still use the content "protected" by the pass 5, 10, 15 years from now. In other words, DON'T USE ONLINE PASSES.
- DIGITAL RIGHTS MANAGEMENT (DRM). It hurts your paying customers, but doesn't stop the ones who pirate. Stop it, or at least implement it in a way which is reasonable to gamers — Valve's Steam is a decent example, although they have some batshit crazy clauses in their policy. I've had games that I bought which I needed to crack to be able to pay for them, and that's YOUR failure.
- STOP BOILING THE FROG. Every once in a while we get (usually EA, Activision or Ubisoft) trying out some crazy idea which the MBAs, bean counters, marketing droids and/or lawyers think is THE GREATEST IDEA EVER, then when there's a backlash you back altogether, or adopt a watered down version of the Idea. For example, always-on "copy protection" being threatened for an upcoming title for the nth time. We're not stupid, we see what you are really trying to do, it didn't work the first five tries, so stop doing it.
- ALWAYS-ON INTERNET FOR ANYTHING. Doesn't work. It won't work in 10 years, and it doesn't now. Your marketing department might tell you that your target market segment has 90% broadband penetration, and someone thinks that's a good case for launching with always-on. What it actually means that you are already losing 10% of your customer base BEFORE the game is even released. Not even an MBA could be stupid enough to make that call. Then out of those 90% with internet some are traveling with poor or no broadband connection, some are stationed overseas on all kinds of assignments, and some have crappy broadband, router troubles, etc. You need always-on for online multiplayer (duh), but you're only hurting yourself if you require it for single-player or local co-op. Yes, this means games which have single player AND multi-player; you don't need always-on for the single player portion. Blizzard, I really want to like Diablo III, but such potential bullshit is grounds for avoiding the game altogether.
- EULAs. NOBODY HAS TIME TO READ A PAGE, LET ALONE 5 PAGES OF LEGALESE. Stop writing those. I WILL NOT read them. Courts in many (most?) jurisdictions don't honor them. They are useless, and laws and statutes in many jurisdiction nullify most of your lawyers' outrageous demands anyway. Class action suits and court cases and small claims are not worth the hassle, you are only subsidizing another industry — your lawyers, my lawyers, their lawyers — and paying for their useless posturing from YOUR bottom line. They also create an antagonistic relationship with your customers, as if we are out to come to your home and take your first born.
- DOWNLOADABLE DIGITAL CONTENT (DLC) — DO NOT release 0-day DLC for monies. It stinks. It makes you look like money-grabbing bastards, and even if you are one, portraying yourself as one will hinder your money-grabbing efforts so it's a lose-lose. You had the content ready when the game went gold, and even if you didn't, it should have been included with the game purchase as a free download. DLC should be a way to lengthen the longevity of a game, to encourage your existing players to continue playing your game, and to show potential buyers that your game is still being supported, and now would be a great time to buy that game. Look at how Criterion supported their magnificent Burnout: Paradise game. They released a large DLC expansion 16 months after the game was released, along with numerous smaller free and for-pay packages along the way. At the other end of the spectrum: Kane and Lynch. IO Interactive's Hitman series is one of the best game series of all time, and I was one of the three people on earth who actually liked Kane and Lynch. But I refused to buy Kane and Lynch 2 at launch due to 0-day for-pay DLC. And as much as I love Hitman, I will refuse to buy the upcoming title if they pull such shenanigans again.
- MANUALS. Do NOT outsource writing of game instructions and manuals to your customers, ie. wikis and user-generated game guides. Gamers are so passionate about games that we are already game testing your games FOR FREE in betas for you, so don't push it. Relying on wikis and forums to give advice on tactics, walkthroughs, etc. is fine. But you need to provide a full manual to explain how to play the game, and what all features and functions are included, and how to use them. Example: the in-game manual in Battlefield 3 is about as useful as a toothpick in a knife fight, and the paper manual is essentially non-existent. Even if we assume everyone who plays BF3 is an experienced FPS player doesn't mean everything is clear. Figuring out how to spot enemies, how to get to Hardcore mode, how to sign up for Battlelog, etc. etc. etc. is all left to the players themselves to figure out, and to write their own manuals.
- DIFFICULTY. Make easy easy, and hard hard. Many games get this, many don't. Some people want a challenge, some want relaxation. You can achieve this cheaply in the same game by having difficulty levels. Publicize just how easy it really is: "your girlfriend can finish it between texting sessions," and how hard hard can get: "you can't finish it even if you had brain implants and a third arm!"
- DEDICATED SERVERS. If you want to utilize the current buzzword of social networking, dedicated servers was there before the phrase was coined. People like to play with friends and acquaintances they meet online and on LAN meets, and having a dedicated server is a great place for that. And can you imagine that your customers will even pay for the bandwidth! It's win-win.
- MODDABILITY. Mods are cool. They are the breeding ground for your future creative directors, map designers, coders, etc. They can bring direct financial benefit if you do it right, just witness Counter Strike. Even if you don't monetize it directly, gamers will need to buy the game to be able to mod and play mods — and many of these purchases are incremental, driven by the mods. Embracing them as a company is part of being a good corporate and gaming citizen.
- CATERING TO THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. Stop that. DON'T try to make BF3 into CoD, every MMO into WoW, every RTS into Starcraft. You will fail, you will not do better than the original, and your wife will not have sex with you when you go back home and tell her you're making a ripoff of [generic title]. You will excel by differentiating your game, making it play, look and sound different than the competition.
- IN-GAME ADS. Use your head. They are expected in sports games, not so much anywhere else. But most importantly, if I paid for a game, I WILL NOT look at ads, I WILL NOT click on them, I WILL NOT give you ad revenue. Not just because I'm an ass, but also because there is a social contract that if I pay for it, I don't get ads.
- CLOSING GAME SERVERS stinks. Don't do it. If you must do it, release the server code with a free license for non-profit use. If you plan to design your game so that you can't release the code because of some imaginary threat, re-design it so it can be released.
- HD REMAKES. Everybody loves HD remakes, an old game re-released with new graphics and sounds. They are cheap for you to develop, usually a market already exists for them, and gamers love the nostalgia — which is pretty impressive in an industry only 30 or so years old. But when you do, don't go all Lucas on it by making changes to the game which will alienate those who loved the original. It hasn't happened AFAIK, but let this be a fair warning.
- RELEASE DATES. Blizzard can release games when they are ready and stay profitable, so should you. Just because you can patch even console games these days IS NOT an excuse to release junk with bugs, crappy netcode or game-breaking balancing issues. If the bean counters tell you you absolutely positively MUST release for the holiday season (formerly known as Christmas season), tell them what needs to happen — that you need to cut co-op, but it's likely to cut into sales. Tell them that netcode is not ready, so you'll launch with weeks of tweaking and patching to fix it, with game media and forums reporting your every hilarious misstep, further cutting into sales. Everybody in the chain needs to understand the risks and repercussions of releasing a game early, and it is your job and duty to ensure that bean counters appreciate them fully. Put it into monetary terms if you can — this goes for everything on this list.
- SINGLE/MULTIPLAYER AND CO-OP. You have limited resources, use them wisely. Just because you can do single, multiplayer, and co-op, doesn't mean you have to. Do one or two well, rather than half-ass two or three of them. I'm sure it's tempting to have yet another bullet point at the back of the box, but the game will be better with a solid one game mode, rather than pissing off everyone. The word that the half-assed mode(s) fully stink will get out quickly. Make a DLC of the mode(s) you don't ship with if sales are good, and charge money for it unless you promised it for free.
- GRAPHICS PORN. There is no lens flare unless there is a lens involved, so STOP PUTTING FRIGGING LENS FLARE IN EVERY SCENE. It doesn't make any sense to have lens flare in an FPS unless you're looking through a scope. It doesn't make any sense for a flashlight to be blinding in daylight (BF3, seriously). We get that you have a cool engine, but don't bang us upside the head about it every opportunity you can.
- TECHNICAL SUPPORT. Your customers are not your technical support. You need to provide a level of technical support and customer service to fix issues with your game. Forums are not a solution, they merely a backup.
- TIME VS. MONEY, meaning how to balance a game where some people are students who have plenty of time but no money, and some are working people with disposable income but no time. You don't want to have the rich people dominate yet another aspect of our lives, but at the same time you don't want to alienate those who don't have much free time. It's about time developers acknowledge this and start taking action. I'm looking forward to Diablo III's auction system. You should be, also, and so should all gamers. It's a new concept at least for a AAA title, so learn from their mistakes and successes. The forum whining will reach epic proportions, but the industry and gaming will get better when balancing those very disparate groups becomes reality — if it ever will.
- TAKE MY MONEY, PLEASE. You shouldn't make me go through hoops to give you money. I'm looking at you, Origin — I didn't buy SW:TOR because of account creation issues -, but it's creeping to elsewhere. The harder you make it for me to give you money, the easier it flows in your direction. Increase the number of payment types, credit cards, Paypal and other online services, gamecards, etc. Don't ask too many questions when registering a product. Offer physical copies for those who like one, and digital for others.
- GAMES ARE PART OF CULTURE. Many of the items above hinder or outright prevent preservation of games as cultural artifacts. There will be no way to play an online game that needs to phone home to install or to work, or multiplayer game that doesn't have dedicated servers. It would be a shame if future generations can't enjoy the best (and worst) games of today.
- DON'T LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS. That's right. People on forums are idiots. People are idiots. YOU are the professionals with the creative urge, technical know-how, and financial means. Make the game YOU want to make, not what the lowest common denominator demands — the audience will come. Sometimes you will fail, and sometimes you will succeed, but that's how business is — so don't put all your eggs in one basket and hedge your bets. This is especially important in the early ideas phase: if you listened to your customers for ideas you'd get a thousand CoD clones, hundreds of GoW copies, several Starcraft derivatives, and couple of big WoW ripoffs. We need more innovative games which break new grounds — Echochrome, or the upcoming Sound Shapes — or give a new twist to an old idea — Portal, Mirror's Edge. New ideas can be cheap to develop, yet they can become a franchise worth Big Bucks — think Angy Birds. Make the investment, take the risk, you will eventually find one that resonates with your customers. Just don't half-ass it so your idea has an actual fighting chance to succeed.
It looks like 2012 will turn out to be just as amazing a year for gamers as 2011 was. Let's ensure that we'll have more such years ahead, and that everyone will have a chance to enjoy your hard work, and that you will continue to thrive as a business.
PLEASE DISTRIBUTE WIDELY
My gaming "credentials": I'm 37-year-old male, and I've been a gamer since Pong. On the FPS side I started with Wolfenstein 3D, played all Dooms, all Quakes, and pretty much everything else from obscure mods (Natural Selection, Tactical Ops: Assault On Terror, True Combat: Elite) to AAA-rated blockbusters (UT, Tribes 2, BF2, TF2, KZ2, BF3). On non-FPS side I've played everything from Yie Ar Kung-Fu to Nethack to every Prince of Persia (original 2D included) to Populous to Lemmings to Worms to Marios to Diablos to Burnouts to WoW to Torchlight to GoW3 to Deus Ex to WH40k Space Marine. I'm mostly from a PC and PS3 background, but I've had a Wii and Nintendo DS, and have a PSP, and have played with most consoles ever made. I consider myself a hardcore player, although these days more casual due to work."